Down 10-2 to Occidental last Saturday afternoon, the men’s baseball team looked defeated. It was not the oppressive, 80-degree heat that had them deflated or even the five runs surrendered off of wild pitches. It was knowing they had lost that game after another brutal loss earlier that day, falling 2-1 in the series against Occidental. That left their SCIAC record at 7-5, good for fourth place in the league.
For most Pomona-Pitzer teams, fourth place is the minimum acceptable spot in the standings. Fourth place means an entrance into the SCIAC tournament. Winning the SCIAC tournament means an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament—so fourth place means a shot at NCAA glory.
Not for baseball though. The SCIAC baseball rules mandate that the SCIAC’s tournament bid goes to the team with the best conference record. With the addition of Chapman next year, the NCAA is instituting the tournament format that most of the SCIAC sports already follow. But not this season. So a 7-5 record and a fourth-place spot bears little solace for the Sagehens.
It is starting to look like an uphill battle for the baseball team and it is easy to blame the lack of a tournament. The real culprit, though, is the NCAA. The NCAA refuses to acknowledge the strength in SCIAC, leaving almost every sport with only one automatic bid. That forces the SCIAC administration to make difficult decisions on how best to assign that bid, whether it be a tournament or based on conference record.
At the end of each season, one SCIAC team gets to the NCAA tournament, and everyone else in the league has almost no chance at an at large bid. There are, of course, exceptions, such as the Redlands men’s soccer team, who gained entrance to the NCAA tournament despite losing to CMS in the final of the SCIAC tournament. However, the fact there was any question in that matter was absurd; they went 14-0 in the league and 20-3-2 overall, earning a top 25 national ranking. A team performing at that level should always have an automatic shot at the NCAA title.
P-P basketball should also have had a chance at the NCAA title. They had some disappointing losses to Occidental and Cal Lutheran, but strung together, they had an impressive season. At the end of the year, their overall record read 16-10, good for second in SCIAC. Along with beating CMS when they were ranked eleventh in the nation, they put up fantastic games against DI Pepperdine and reigning DIII champion St. Thomas. They competed shot-for-shot with CMS in the SCIAC final, and—considering CMS fell in overtime to St. Thomas in the NCAA tournament—it is not hard to argue that P-P would have also been a veritable threat in the tournament.
But as soon as they lost in the SCIAC tournament, they had a pretty good feeling that their season was over. The NCAA did that to them. The NCAA neglects to accept that the SoCal teams can compete on a national level, treating the SCIAC like a weird uncle one has to acknowledge (give an automatic bid to) but does not really love (give no at-large bids).
Well, it is time the NCAA takes a good look and realizes that the SCIAC is the real deal. All of our sports have steadily improved in recent years compared to the rest of the nation. It is about time we get two automatic bids like the NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference). We have earned it.
Then the SCIAC administration can give one bid to the team with the best record in the regular season and one bid to the team that wins the tournament. We will call it the Great Compromise, rewarding tough consistency all year long as well as catching fire at the end of the year, charging into the SCIAC tournament and upsetting the No. 1 seed. Let us say the No. 1 seed also wins the tournament; the runner-up would then get the second bid. Such a scenario would reward the consistency necessary for a second- or third-place regular season finish and the poise necessary to perform well in the playoffs.
Then, if the NCAA decides we have three teams qualified for the tournament—which is absolutely possible with the addition of Chapman next year—they could give that third team an at-large bid.
Doing this validates the success that SCIAC sports teams are starting to achieve and keeps teams like the P-P baseball and basketball men in the running for a bid.
So, NCAA, listen up. It is time.